– Marco Archer, February 2013,
on the Nation Building Fund
The above statement, spoken by Progressives candidate Mr. Archer before he was elected to office, ranks among the strongest utterances of the 2013 political campaign in the Cayman Islands.
Fellow candidate Roy McTaggart, running under the Coalition for Cayman flag, voiced a similar sentiment during the same forum: “Smells like vote-buying to me, one way or another.”
The program to which they refer, the Nation Building Fund, consisted of the allocation of some $9.5 million under Premier McKeeva Bush’s administration from December 2009 to June 2012, with $4.6 million going to churches or religious groups, $3 million in grants to other individuals and organizations, and $1.5 million to a “Young Nation Building Scholars” fund.
Mr. Bush vociferously defends the administration of, the allocations from and the integrity of the fund.
Step forward 1.5 years in time from remarks made on the campaign trail: Mr. Archer is now finance minister for the Progressives government, and Mr. McTaggart is the ministry’s councilor.
On Monday (yesterday), Auditor General Alastair Swarbrick was expected to finally release to the public his long-awaited performance audit report on the “Management of the Nation Building Programme” – the initiative that our current finance minister and ministerial councilor have described as “corruption” and “vote-buying.” Accordingly, our interest was, so to speak, piqued.
Yet, late Friday afternoon, the Compass and other media organizations received a brief email from the Office of the Auditor General, stating that Monday’s news conference had been “postponed to a yet to be determined date.” The explanation being that, “In this instance, we have decided to delay the issuance of this important report to give Members [of the Legislative Assembly] more time for their review before making the report public.”
We understand this audit began more than a year ago, and the completed report has been available for lawmakers’ perusal for about a week and a half. We members of the press, laypeople though we may be, quite often have those reports in our possession for one day or less before we publish our analysis and commentary.
We understand our lawmakers are busy people, but how much time, really, do they need in order to review a report on the government’s activities?
The Office of the Auditor General is an independent oversight body, and the auditor general is appointed directly by Governor Helen Kilpatrick.
The auditor general’s stated reason for delaying the report’s publication – to give legislators more time for review – implies that, somehow, there is an opportunity for legislators to have the report altered, amended or otherwise adjusted. We don’t think that is actually the case, but that is the appearance.
One explanation for the delay might be that the House is to come into session Wednesday and is expected to meet only through Friday. Therefore, if the report has not yet been made public, it will not be possible for members, including Opposition Leader Bush, to debate or rebut the auditor general’s findings.
The only valid explanation for the delay would be over concerns that there is something wrong with the auditor general’s report, an error or omission that can and should be rectified before publication. If that is the case, then they should just come out and say so.
If that is not the case, then the report should have been published, as is, on schedule (yesterday), or as close as possible, meaning today.
Lest we forget, these are documents whose ultimate intent is to benefit the public, not to be perused in private by those in authority.